Songbirds Reel Affirmations 16: Washington DC Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

Date: Saturday, 10/14/2006
Time: 7:00 pm

Venue: Goethe-Institut
Tickets: $9 Buy tickets online

Type: Feature presentation

Metro Weekly Rating: (4 out of 5)

by Will O'Bryan

THERE'S NOT MUCH gay about Songbirds, a documentary and musical about women in an English prison, but it's nevertheless worthwhile, whoever the Reel Affirmations audience may be. The movie looks at the histories of several inmates, turning their tragic tales into songs sung by the inmates themselves. And these are definitely stories that will shatter convictions of good and bad, right and wrong.

Mary, who seems to be a lesbian mother of three, who was also using heroin at 15, is serving four and a half years for robbery. Crack-addicted ''Scary Mary'' offers a nice little rap about her temper and the abuse she's seen. Sam, serving three years for ''arson with intent'' sings from a prison gallery, surrounded by paintings that represent the night her mother took out the garbage and never returned, and other scenes of disturbed domesticity. She delivers an incredibly touching song, with a decent voice to boot. Another song, delivered by an unnamed inmate -- with several more as backup singers -- applies a catchy rhythm to the dangers of transporting drugs, intentionally or not. ''You can mule on a plane, you can mule on a train,'' they sing. Maggie's Irish trill about her four children --all adopted after her drug addiction landed her in prison -- is heartbreaking. So is the 20-stitch scar down the side of her face. It's one of many her husband gave her.

Though Theresa doesn't sing, this regal woman's tale is the last one the audience learns. And it's gripping. Anyone who hears her story will too easily be able to see herself in Theresa's place.

Again, this film is not terribly gay. Beyond Mary, there is some discussion among random inmates about their ''fronts being yummed'' -- apparently a colloquial term for cunnilingus -- by other women in the prison. Still, Songbirds is worthy of everyone's attention. -- WOB

More information

Film Links:
· Reel Affirmations details
· Internet Movie Database
· Rotten Tomatoes

Festival Venue:
Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes
814 - 7th Street, NW; Washington, DC 20001. (202) 289-1200. (map)
1 block north of Green-Yellow-Red Line Metro / Gallery Place-Chinatown station.

You may buy your tickets or passes in advance: Online at or by phone at (800) 494-TIXS (494-8497). Or you may visit the Lincoln Theatre (1215 U Street, NW, WDC); the Landmark's E Street Cinema (555 11th Street, NW); or Lambda Rising (1625 Connecticut Avenue, NW, WDC).

For more info visit the official Reel Affirmations website.